Why and How To Be a Hospice Volunteer: Your Questions Answered

Cori Ballew, Ecumen Hospice Volunteer Specialist, talks about how and why to become a hospice volunteer.

Ecumen Hospice is looking for volunteers in the Minneapolis/Saint Paul metro area to provide comfort, support and friendship to hospice patients in their final months, weeks or days.

“Hospice volunteering is an incredibly personal experience,” says Cori Ballew, Ecumen Hospice Volunteer Specialist. “The whole idea of hospice is to help people live as fully as possible for whatever time is left. Most volunteers find it a deeply rewarding, positive and uplifting experience.”

We asked Cori to answer some of the key questions people may have about becoming a hospice volunteer:

Q: What do hospice volunteers do?

A: Basically, volunteers offer love, support and comfort at the end of life. There are two types of volunteers — companion volunteers and vigil volunteers.

The companion volunteer works directly with patients and families by providing essential social and emotional support to patients and their families by being there to comfort, care, and listen. During regularly scheduled visits, volunteers do activities with the patient such as reading the newspaper or books, taking walks, listening to music, sharing stories, helping make phone calls, writing letters to loved ones, or providing friendship by just being present. If a patient is living in a private home, volunteers may also offer support or respite to the caregiver or give practical help around the home, like preparing meals or running errands.

The vigil volunteer works an on-call, as needed schedule and  go on visits when a patient is in the final few days or hours of life.  Often, they may only visit with a patient one time. Visits can be anywhere from one hour to 6+ hours (depending on the volunteer preferences and patient/family needs).  Vigil volunteers do many of the same things as companion volunteers, such as reading, singing, or simply offering company to patients as they pass. We believe that, unless desired, no one should die alone. By being available, vigil volunteers can also offer respite to caregivers, giving them peace of mind that someone is present while they are unable to be by their loved one’s side. Vigil volunteers also extend support to family members and friends that are present at the time of death.

Q: What do I need to do to become a hospice volunteer?

A: All volunteers go through a screening and training process, which typically takes three to four weeks. This involves a background and reference check, online (self-study) training, TB test, and in-person orientation. Becoming a hospice volunteer is more complicated than some other volunteer opportunities, but the experience is deeply rewarding and meaningful to the patients, their families — and to the volunteer. 

Q: What is the time commitment as a hospice volunteer?

A: Companion volunteers typically commit to an hour or two a week, but we can be flexible depending on their schedule. Vigil volunteers serve on an on-call, as-needed basis. Both are considered part of our direct care team, which means they make visits independently, submit documentation after each visit, and stay in regular communication with me.

Q: Where will I be volunteering? 

Hospice care is provided in the patient’s residence — which could be a private home, assisted living, independent living or skilled-nursing community. We serve the entire Twin Cities and surrounding suburbs, but many of our patients live in Ecumen communities, so our highest location needs right now are in North Branch, Chisago City, Apple Valley, and Maplewood.

Q: Who should I contact about volunteering? 

Contact me. Cori Ballew, at 651-714-0200 or coriballew@ecumen.org. Interested volunteers can also check out our volunteer opportunity directory on our website: www.ecumenhospice.org.   

Q: Do you have a need for hospice volunteers outside of the Twin Cities metro area?

We do! Ecumen Hospice also serves patients and families in Litchfield, MN and surrounding areas. The process to becoming a volunteer is a bit different, but the impact a volunteer has on a patient and their family is the same. Contact Nicole Larson, Volunteer Coordinator at 320-373-6604 or nicolelarson@ecumen.org for more info about hospice volunteer opportunities in Litchfield.